Outside of sitting in rows of bright red carpet-padded chairs each with loose faux wood armrests, I don’t remember much about my 3rd grade Sunday school class. We had the occasional “Sword Drill” which pitted each of us against one another to see who could flip through their Bible the fastest to locate whatever verse our teacher asked us to find. But as far as specific lessons go, no significant memories come to mind.
Except for one. I can remember talking about King Solomon and how out of all the requests he could have asked God for, he chose wisdom. On that day our teacher taught us of the importance of wisdom and told us, like Solomon, to ask God for it. Out of countless encouragements and applications he had for us during our weekly times together, for whatever reason, this one stuck.
From that day on (now 26 years later), I still regularly pray for wisdom.
That one lesson has led me to stop to listen in times I wanted to speak and has propelled me to turn to the prudence of Proverbs in seasons of confusion. Sometimes I wonder, “What if I was gone that day? What if I missed out on a perhaps divine appointment God had for my childhood self that permanently shaped my actions and thinking moving forward?” For me, not every teaching cemented itself in my mind, but the ones that did rooted deep into my life.
For the last 12 years, I have served in some form of adult discipleship ministry. During this time I’ve championed various spiritual growth practices such as small group participation, Bible reading plans, service opportunities, prayer vigils, short term mission trips, and the like at helping individuals develop in their faith. I’ve wrestled with that question of “how does discipleship happen best?” and “what will help people most live like Jesus?” (I’ll be sure to let you know when I’ve found the answer).
A Crucial Ministry
For a majority of this time, my wife has also served in ministry: kids’ ministry. Having two members of the same family both in vocational ministry has its challenges, and far too often when the needs of our various roles came into conflict, mine often came out on top. After all, adults can drive, make decisions, tithe, provide necessary feedback, and offer the responses church leaders most like to see when gauging the effectiveness of a church. I’m sure just comparing the words “adult discipleship” and “kids’ ministry” draws a stark discrepancy between the the picture that emerges of each.
However, if we followers of Jesus take to heart the great importance with which we are told to follow God’s commands and teach them to others (Jn. 14:21; Matt. 28:19-20; Js. 1:22; 1 Jn. 2:3-6), the value we place on the intentional discipleship of our youngest and most impressionable group should never be underestimated.
While we can debate the best methods of discipleship, we know with certainty that the first line of defense begins with the intentional teaching of our own children, and the window to plant those seeds only stays open so long.
According to a Barna Research study, about two out of three people choose to follow Jesus before the age of 18 and nearly half make that decision by the age of 13. When summarizing the significant aspects of this research, George Barna concluded,
“Families, churches and parachurch ministries must recognize that primary window of opportunity for effectively reaching people with the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is during the pre-teen years. It is during those years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life – especially theologically and morally. Consistently explaining and modeling truth principles for young people is the most critical factor in their spiritual development.”
We also don’t have to look far to see that our society continues to introduce worldview-shaping concepts at an increasingly younger age to our kids, so perhaps we should not neglect to make the most of our opportunity to instill biblical and truth-filled alternatives. It’s not like we haven’t heard that instruction before (Deut. 6:6-9; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). But for this to happen, we must realize what is at stake.
Parents must continue to be encouraged to embrace the importance of their God-given authority to pass down their faith to their children and to partner with their churches to do so.
Growing up, my parents made it a priority that we go to church ever single Sunday. I often wonder what life would have looked like if this pandemic had hit in my childhood, but I don’t have to think long to know that the second the church opened its doors we would have been there. For my parents (and our family), faith was the priority above all else, and participation at church was an expression of that.
I may not have remembered every Sunday school lesson, but I’m thankful I never missed the ones that impacted me most. In addition to parents prioritizing the opportunities they have for spiritual training, members of our churches must recognize the chances they have to influence and change a child’s life by investing in them. I benefitted tremendously from the willingness of countless adults who chose to invest their time in kids’ ministry and can look back with utmost gratitude for their choice today.
Some of the most Christlike people I know serve in kids’ ministry.
I may be a little biased, but in the years that I have worked to spur adults on in their spiritual growth and out of all the methods I’ve promoted, some of the greatest and most Christlike people I know serve in kids’ ministry. Perhaps it’s because Bible stories are broken down into simpler, more digestible terms or that Jesus himself reasoned that children have a way of teaching us about our faith that no one else can (Matt. 18:1-5). Whatever it may be, I don’t think this is a coincidence.